After several months of watching my Dad suffer…his suffering is over. He passed peacefully in his sleep. Now what?
Just as soon as the death happens, you can almost immediately expect someone to ask the question of “are you opening an estate?” If you are unaware, when individuals pass, their assets and debts continue to exist in their estate for at least a year after they pass while their assets are gathered, and their remaining debts are paid. When someone asks you that question, the answer you should give them is “After I’m done grieving, I will be discussing it with a lawyer” In Pennsylvania, regardless if a person has $1 to their name or a million, there is the potential for an estate to be opened.
This is a list of pointers I have found as a paralegal almost exclusively doing estate administration for many years of my career. A parent dying is always a stressful and emotional experience. Proper planning by your parents can help by providing a treasure map with a light at the end of the tunnel.
One can only hope that Dad has already organized his estate and financial paperwork and all of his other affairs so that everything that is needed is within reach. But, if your parents or even you are like most people, the idea of organizing your final affairs is something you do not want to think about. Organizing your estate planning now not only assures that what you want is indeed followed when you are not here, but also assists your appointed executor or executrix in handling your wishes without delay and unnecessary complications.
To minimize stress when a parent dies, it is best to have a checklist to help keep you focused through all the financial and legal responsibilities during the first couple of days, weeks, and months after their passing. Even decisions like what music to play at their funeral can be overwhelming if plans are not made. If you are lucky enough to have a loved one that has already made prearrangements for their funeral that is fantastic, however, that is generally he exception and not the standard.
Proceed with the funeral and other arrangements first. Be sure to advise the undertaker that you would like no less then ten (10) death certificates, as you will need them to provide to financial institutions and legal entities over the course of the next year to process assets and proceed with the estate.
Now, where is the Will? Did Dad tell you where he keeps his important papers? If yes…that is fantastic. If not, you will need to locate this item before any Recorder of Wills Office will “probate” the estate. The term probate is a fancy word for saying “open” the estate.
If you are looking for the Will, keep your eyes open for any assets. What exactly is an asset? Anything that has a monetary value, whether it is a deed to the house, the deed to a vacation home, bank account statements, brokerage accounts statements , stocks, bonds, jewelry, coin collections or collections of any kind of value, titles to vehicles, or life insurance policies. If Dad were perfect, he would have written down names of financial institutions holding his assets and their address, phone number and representatives to contact. But like most people, you will find various bank statements in a folder…that is just fine as long as they are all together and you do not have to go through filing cabinets to see what is still in existence.
While searching for assets can be time consuming and complicated. You almost need to play the role of a detective. While looking for assets, keep an eye out on any debts which Dad may have had. Examples of debts include mortgages, loans, medical bills, credit cards, utility bills, car payments, etc. All debts need to be taken care of during the estate process. Does Dad have a list of his debts? Do you? Once you are appointed in charge of the estate by the court, you should immediately change Dad’s mailing address to your home. That way you check the mail for assets or debts like any good detective would do.
Another way we find debts is by advertising the estate. Within one year of the advertising, creditors can come forward and request to be paid before the estate closes. This is known as filing a claim against the estate. It happens all the time. If you choose not to advertise, be aware, the one-year clock never stops.
If Dad had a home, you would want to periodically check the house or have a neighbor keep a watch on the house. You will also want to contact the insurance agency to make them aware of the death of the owner and make sure that they will still insure the home through the estate’s name. If the regular homeowner’s insurance company will not, you will need to make other arrangements will need to be made so that the house is protected to any unfortunate incidents until the house is sold or transferred to its proper beneficiary
This is just the beginning of the checklist. If you or a loved one are put in the role of having to handle an estate, reach out to Rick Law for assistance, guidance, or representation. Our office handles estates of all sizes in many locations. No estate is too small to discuss your concerns and provide you peace of mind.
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